MIT students honoured by the Canadian University Press

February 2021

Two Western student journalists, both enrolled in the Media, Information & Technoculture program in the Faculty of Media & Information Studies, were recently honoured for their work by the Canadian University Press.

Liam Afonso, a fourth-year MIT student and the Creative Director for the campus newspaper the Gazette, was named Student Journalist of the Year. Lucas Arender, a second-year MIT student who also works at the Gazette, teamed up with Afonso for a project that received the Prize for Digital Storytelling. Titled “Western’s outbreak, traced,” the video piece was originally published on September 24, 2020. The CUP awards were announced at a virtual gala on February 21, 2021.

The duo’s award-winning video breaks down in detail how an outbreak of COVID-19 among students in September spread from person to person, house to house, and stemmed from a chart presented at a Middlesex London Health Unit press conference. Watching the press conference, Afonso found the graphic fascinating but also recognized its complexity.

“The detail in the chart was incredible -- I can’t recall ever seeing such a detailed account of the virus’ spread. I immediately thought that I had to make a video about it,” said Afonso.

“In my experience, video is best used to explain complex stories in a really digestible format. The chart was by no means easy to understand, so video was the perfect format for our piece.”

Afonso brought Arender on board to help write the script, and together they spent about a week working intensively on the project. As a newer addition to the Gazette’s staff, Arender didn’t have a lot of script-writing experience, so going through the process taught him a lot. He described it as a consuming assignment that saw them both working full days, and “nonstop”.

“Typically, videos can be written, shot and edited in a couple of days but since the subject matter of this video was so important, Liam and I made a conscious choice to take our time with it,” said Arender.

“Liam showed me firsthand, especially with this video, that when a project lights a fire under you, don’t put it out, ride the momentum until you have a product you can be proud of.”

Both students say they are honoured to be recognized for their work. CUP distributes The John H. McDonald Awards for Excellence in Student Journalism annually, and with nominations from across Canada, competition is fierce. Winners are chosen by a group of professional journalists from across the profession.

Afonso credits the support and mentorship of the editorial team at the Gazette for putting him in a position where he could compete for – and win - Student Journalist of the Year.

“I wouldn’t be half the journalist I am today without Emily Tayler, our Editor-in-Chief, and Martin Allen, her predecessor. Their mentorship has been truly invaluable,” he said, adding that the MIT courses he took in multimedia journalism and graphic design also helped him develop his creative abilities.

Afonso and Arender are at different stages of their student careers, but both say they plan to pursue journalism after they graduate. Arender has a few years before he leaves Western, but he has known for a long time that journalism – ideally investigative journalism – is where he wants to go.

“I’ve planned on pursuing a career in journalism since middle school. I love everything about it. I love telling stories, I like holding people accountable and above all, I appreciate the opportunity to give voices to those who don’t always have one,” he explained.

He adds that enrolling in the MIT program and getting involved with the Gazette were deliberate choices that have paid off. Work like the video piece wins him recognition while also reinforcing the potential of the medium.

“I find there is so much power in video to tell a compelling story and a job where I could cover the news of the world, simplify it, and present it in a way that will inform people, that’s really the dream.”

Afonso also has no doubts about where he wants to go, as he approaches the completion of his undergraduate education.

“I’m absolutely planning on pursuing a career in journalism once I graduate. Since I wandered into the Gazette offices in my first year, I was instantly hooked.”


Liam Afonso was a guest on CBC’s Afternoon Drive with Chris dela Torre on February 22 to chat about his work and the challenges of producing news during a pandemic. Listen to “Canadian University Press names Western Gazette's Creative Director ‘Student Journalist of the Year’."